Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are we at the End of World Travel?

I remember a few years ago trying to organize a summer class that would travel to Mexico for two weeks to study the effects of globalization on immigration. Several students were very interested. At the last minute, every single one of them had to back out because of the high cost of travel. Oil prices had shot up and what was usually a $300 plane ticket had ballooned into a $600-700 one.

Bradford Plumer warns here that as the era of peak oil approaches, cheap air travel will likely disappear. It will be less likely that people will be able to afford going cross country for vacation, or that academics will be able to go to conferences all around the nation. (Last academic year alone, I flew to Texas, Michigan, and Colorado two times to give talks)

It will also mean that economic globalization will slow down and it will be less likely for goods and services to criss cross around the world. No more Australian oranges in summer or cheap Wal-Mart gadgets from China.

But it also means that its less likely that ordinary people will be able to travel outside of the country and see the world, experience new cultures, or different ways of life. We may be able to hear about events all over the globe, but it will be less likely that we will ever have the chance to see the people attached to those events.

Should we be concerned that world travel will be out of reach for many?



At 10:23 PM , Anonymous woody said...

Very well said! I really like the post!

At 12:38 AM , Blogger Dennis said...

Dude! What about the internet? Within a few years, I'll just be able to vacation virtually from my own home! Isn't that just as good?

At 4:18 AM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

It's interesting that you wrote "ordinary people" might not be able to travel abroad. In my experience, "ordinary Americans" couldn't travel abroad, except to drive to Canada or fly to Mexico once or twice in a lifetime. But still, my parents haven't been to Mexico. And if by "ordinary people" you mean people outside of the affluent West, then most have never been able to travel abroad.

(Full disclosure: last academic year I flew to New Orleans, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, Little Rock, and Frankfurt.)

At 5:57 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Michael: I think its true that the ease of air travel is largely for people in the affluent west, but there are still millions of people each year doing so (flying through Chicago a couple of times this year makes this apparent). But think of these discount airlines, like Southwest and JetBlue--they really do make it much more affordable for even lower middle class people to take a trip that might have been several thousand dollars almost 30-40 years ago.

However, many people are on the move. The number of migrants worldwide is close to 100 million people last year. Of course, I doubt they are using planes in most cases. But if you go to PDX or Chicago at certain hours, you are able to see Mexican families going back and forth to Mexico, especially in December. Peak oil would make the ease of that kind of transnationalism very hard to come by.

At 4:40 AM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

Joseph, I agree with you. I wasn't so much questioning if third world people flew much, but more of the use "ordinary people." I guess it's a term that's been irking me a lot recently.

Then again, a lot of things are irking me a lot recently.

At 10:31 AM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Michael: I understand. I originally had written "working and lower middle class". Perhaps that would have been more sociologically appropriate. But I hesitated for some of the reasons you mentioned. Instead I went for the cheap rhetorical ploy ;)


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